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Posts from August 2016

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @FrankiSibberson + @BurkinsAndYaris + @RaisingHappines

JoyOFLearningLogoUsually I just post my #JoyOfLearning article quotes once a week or so. But even though I posted a roundup on Monday, today I have three more articles that are well worth your time. The first two, both via Choice Literacy, are about the benefits of giving kids choice in what they read (even if a book seems to not be at their reading level, or seems "shallow" to the adult). The third article is about how grit involves more than just being persistent - the core attribute of grit involves being persistent in pursuing something that one is passionate about. There are strong implications here for how we encourage kids to try new things. 

ReadingWellnessRedefining "Just-Right" Books for Kids with #ReadingChoice + enjoyment in mind by @BurkinsandYaris @ChoiceLiteracy 

Kim Yaris and Jan Burkins: "If we don’t define our reading lives by a single metric, why should we narrow children’s choices? Why can’t we just let children check out more than one book—one that is “just right” and a couple that aren’t, by traditional standards? Why can’t we broaden our definitions of "just right" so that students can broaden theirs? Why can’t we let the first graders who read on a third-grade level check out Dr. Seuss books and let the Marcuses in our classrooms read graphic novels that give them energy for all reading?...

Our charge in helping students select books is an important one. In the same way that flexibility and choice increases our energy and enthusiasm for reading, the same is true for students. What’s more, this energy and enthusiasm is accompanied by fringe benefits: when children are excited about reading, they are more likely to read more pages and read for longer periods of time, both of which translate to increased proficiency as readers."

Me: This article begins with a tale of a first grader whose teacher stopped him from checking out a library book that he was excited about, because it wasn't at the right level for him. I vow that I will speak up if this happens to my first grade daughter at school this year. My daughter will pick up everything from board books to chapter books, depending on her mood. She can't do more than decode a few words of the chapter books, while the board books are easy for her. But me, I celebrate (quietly, inside) every time she is excited about a book, no matter what "level" that book might be.

Conversely (and this one is admittedly harder) I try never to push when she refuses to read a book that I think she'll like, because she doesn't like the cover. I just let it go - there are always other books. I feel strongly that at home she should have complete choice in what she reads, and what we read to her, because this probably will not always be the case in school.  

StillLearningToReadTeacher @frankisibberson learns the value of "shallow books" from 3rd grade students - kids make just-right choices 

Franki Sibberson: (After her students each celebrated one book from their third grade reading life) "These books I considered shallow, that were not quite the high-quality literature I know, changed my kids' reading lives in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Each day as a child shared, I was reminded of the brilliance of the authors who write for young children—authors who know just what a child needs to continue their reading journey...

As each child celebrated, I realized how often I try to rush my students’ journeys as readers, push them to books they are not quite ready for, encourage them to read the books I love. Through the month of celebrations I came to love these books that I wasn’t so excited about at the start of the school year. I don’t love them in the same way that I love Bridge to Terabithia, but I love them because they are the right books for my third graders. 

I learned as I have over and over again to trust my students to make good choices as readers."

Me: This is a hard one for parents and teachers who are book-lovers, I think. We have books that we are so excited to share with our kids that we push them to read them. But kids have reasons for liking the books that they like. Personal reasons. Developmental reasons. Just as we adults have reasons for liking the books that we like (personal choice, escapism, professional development, etc.). Cheers to Franki Sibberson for recognizing the value that "shallower" books have for her students, and for reminding the rest of us about this. 

TheSweetSpotGrit is "persistence AND passion towards one’s long term goals" | perfectionism alone is not enough  @raisinghappines

Christine Carter: "But true grit—the kind that is equal measures passion and persistence—is a solid strategy for both success AND happiness. And it is something we can easily foster in ourselves, and in our children.

First, find and fuel passion. If you are a parent or teacher looking to foster grit in kids, the first step is to let go of what you want for them, and watch for what they are passionate about. Then, simply support their passions.

In order for kids to even know what they are interested in, they need exposure to a lot of different things. They will never know that they are passionate about tennis or Shakespeare or rock-climbing or piano if they never have a chance to try those things out."

Me: Carter makes an important distinction in this post between perfectionism (accomplishing things out of a fear of not accomplishing them) and sticking with something because one is passionate about it. Forcing our kids to stick to things that don't bring them joy can be a recipe for their unhappiness. The same can be said for us. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den: Aimée Carter

Book: Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den
Author: Aimée Carter
Pages: 320
Age Range: 8-12

SimonThornSimon Thorn and the Wolf's Den by Aimée Carter is the first of a new series about a 12 year old boy, Simon Thorn, who learns that his ability to talk with animals is actually part of something much bigger. Simon has lived for as long as he can remember with his uncle Darryl, receiving only monthly postcards and extremely rare visits from his mysterious mother. Simon has been attempting to hide his new ability to talk to animals from everyone, including Darryl. But when a one-eyed golden eagle warns him that his life is in danger, Simon soon finds himself on the run, uncovering both secrets and relations left and right. 

There's no question that Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den includes some fairly well-established middle grade fantasy tropes, right down to the existence of a secret school for animalgams (people who can shift into an animal form at will) and the importance of a small crew of friends. But I still found Carter's approach and world-building to feel fresh and accessible. There's a nice mix of interpersonal issues (family, bullying, betrayal), mystery (who to trust), and action which will keep kids turning the pages. Here's a snippet of the world-building:

"... Malcolm muttered a curse under his breath and pushed open the heavy door, revealing a dark hallway that looed ore like the entrance to an old castle than a school. The walls were made of stone, and a wrought iron chandelier hung above them. The low light gave the building an eerie feeling, and a chill crept down Simon's spine. Worse, while framed paintings of all kids of animals, from mountain lions to vipers to a dolphin that looked like an older version of Jam, lined the hallway, there weren't any portraits of birds." (Chapter 8, ARC)

The characters are interesting and three-dimensional. I especially liked Darryl, whose love for and loyalty to Simon come across every time he appears on the page. The characters tend to reflect their animal natures even when they are in human form, but they also have other personality traits, like the book-loving dolphin boy, Jam.

Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den would be a good choice for kids who enjoyed the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books, though it reminds me even more of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare's Magisterium series, with its mix of riddles, dangers, and unusual abilities. The Simon Thorn series is an appealing addition to the ranks of middle grade fantasy series. I look forward to Simon's future adventures. Recommended for kids age 8 and up, with enough complexity to please teens and adults, too. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids) 
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

#JoyOfLearning Articles from Sarah Cooley + @cherandpete + #ece_nerd + @MsSackstein + #ErinHillNY

JoyOFLearningLogoAs seems appropriate given that my daughter has just started school for the year, today I have five posts that are all about bringing joyful learning back to the classroom, one way or another. In the first, a first grade teacher introduces a play kitchen in her classroom. In the second, a veteran teacher assigns his students things like "read a book" and "volunteer", instead of offering traditional homework. In the third, the author laments efforts to force all preschoolers to sit still for group learning sessions. In the fourth, a teacher gives tips for empowering students in the classroom. In the fifth article, a Texas teacher defends her new "no homework" policy. All five of these post offer an encouraging view of teachers trying to help kids to learn through play, and figure out what truly engages them. 

This is an encouraging post by a teacher: Why I am Bringing the Play Kitchen Back to First Grade!  via @sxwiley #play

Sarah Cooley: "Let’s face it.  Technology has taken over, and while technology is amazing-- gone are the days when videos,iPad's, Kindles, and such weren’t at our fingertips every given minute. The play kitchen will allow my students  the opportunity to pretend again.  How many memories do we have with our friends playing in the home living center at school?  Dressing up and playing with baby dolls?   Developing imagination will inspire them to become creative writers and thinkers.  I think I will see a dramatic change in the writing my students produce because of the play kitchen."

Me: How great is it that this first grade teacher is bringing in a play kitchen for her students? While some of her reasons, like the one quoted above, focus on benefits to creativity and literacy, her real reason is clear: Kids who are six years old need and deserve time to PLAY. At my daughter's school, the play kitchen in the kindergarten sat and collected dust all year last year, so I have no expectation of this in first grade. But it makes me happy to think of Sarah Cooley's students out there somewhere. I'll be following her blog going forward, and will share any updates about the success of the play kitchen. 

WHAT IF… Home ‘work’ Looked Like This? 90 mins of #play, #reading, #exercise etc. @cherandpete via @drdouggreen

Peter Cameron: "My views on homework have changed and evolved over my 20+ years of teaching. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that traditional homework has done nothing to improve my students’ academic performance or their ability to think and learn. In fact, I believe it’s  had somewhat of the opposite effect. When homework piled up, stress increased and students came back to school tired, overwhelmed and burnt out. I also found that students who had little support from parents or guardians with their homework (whether it be assisting them or encouraging them to get it done) tended to come back with it incomplete. This created a large gap in learning for my students who weren’t able to complete their homework."

Me: Peter Cameron goes on to share a "homework" assignment that he started giving to his students near the end of the last school year. Kids are to do one or more of the following for 90 minutes each day: play outside, exercise, create something, read a book, etc. He actually made a little form with checkboxes that students can use to track their progress. How amazing is that? Early results that he reported in June were positive. I'll be following Peter's blog this year for updates. 

How and why forcing #preschoolers to participate in group time can backfire by @ece_nerd @BAMRadioNetwork

Heather Wenig: "I’ve got some news for you, folks. There’s plenty of time for sitting still and lots of experiences children need to have before we can expect it of them. And too often our attempts to force this “readiness” backfire. How? I’m glad you asked….

One way forced participation in group time (and punishment for pushing back) can backfire is by sending a message to young children that learning is not fun and doesn’t work for them...

Let’s spend some time really reflecting on what children really need to learn. It’s just possible that unquestioning obedience is not the first thing on the list."

Me: I'm reassured every time I see another post or article about how we "need to pay closer attention to children’s FEELINGS ABOUT learning", and about taking children's developmental readiness into account in setting expectations for them. Why on earth does anyone feel like preschoolers need to practice sitting patiently in a group? Some kids are going to be ready for this, and have no problem with it. But some kids are not. Heather Wenig is a champion for those latter kids. 

Teacher @mssackstein shares concrete tips for empowering #students in the classroom  #teaching #JoyOfLearning

Starr Sackstein: "Give students a say in how they learn. Get to know your students well. Understand the way in which they best process information and develop skills and allow them to make the choices as to how they go about completing tasks. There is never only one right way to do anything and since every child is different, we must be flexible with the methods we allow students to employ while learning."

Me: Over the course of my life, I've gradually learned the ways I am more vs. less able to process new information. [I take things in better by reading, and understand them better by writing. Verbally conveyed information is much more challenging, as is brainstorming in a group session.] Imagine if our youngest children had teachers who could help them figure this out in elementary school? And who could help them to match their learning methods with their own temperaments? I realize that this wouldn't be easy to achieve, but I think we'd see a lot more kids succeeding as learners. 

Love this! Texas Teacher Defends No-Homework Policy, tells families to eat + read together + #play outside  @people

Erin Hill (in People Magazine): ""All of my parents have been really enthusiastic and supportive," she (teacher Brandy Young) shares. "We're partners in educating our children."

Young says she hopes her policy will start a larger conversation about homework in all grades.

"Any homework that's given just needs to be meaningful. The kids are so busy and they work hard days, and when they go home, they don't need busy work, let's just make sure we're not giving busy work," she adds."

Me: My six-year-old is one week into first grade and already complaining about homework, which she has every day. This is very frustrating for me, knowing that the research doesn't support it, but feeling like my one voice will be utterly drowned out in our academic-achievement-focused elementary school. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: August 26: The Call for #Cybils Judges, and More

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BookLists, back to school, diverse books, exercise, growing bookworms, love of books, picture books, reading, and STEM. But the biggest news of the week is that the Cybils Awards are gearing up for fall, with a snazzy new logo color scheme, and accepting applications for judges. 

Book Lists

The Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books of 2016 — @100scopenotes  #kidlit #PictureBooks

Great choices here: 10 Favorite #PictureBooks for Starting #School, a #BookList from @MaryAnnScheuer  #kidlit

Read Around Town: #PictureBooks that celebrate the Post Office  @mrskatiefitz #BookList

Six Favorite #EasyReaders from an enthusiastic, internally motivated new #reader @sunlitpages  #BookList

A Tuesday Ten #BookList @TesseractViews | Foxes Fantastic | #kidlit fantasy featuring foxes

12 Girls from Fiction Who Are Their Own Heroes, brave + strong, #BookList by @Bookopolis @ReadBrightly  #kidlit


bloggers: the 2016 #Cybils logo by @aquafortis  is now available for download. Show your @cybils pride! 

Do You Want to Be a #Cybils Judge? @brandymuses suggests reasons to consider it  #kidlit

Announcing the #Cybils Call for Judges + her own new spot as #YA Fiction category chair: @melissawiley   #kidlit 

Hey there #kidlit + #YA reviewers: The #Cybils Call for Judges is now LIVE! Apply by 9/14 to help 

Change Is Fun!! | @book_nut summarizes changes to the #Cybils for this fall  |Call for judges coming soon! #kidlit

More news from the #Cybils blog: 2 new chairs (@kidsilkhaze + @growingbbb), and 1 closed category (#BookApps) 


Why #WeNeedDiverseBeginningReaders | w/ book suggestions at Guessing Geisel  #kidlit #DiverseBooks

Events and Programs

Italian government is giving teens €500 on their 18th birthday to spend on books/arts @christophhooton @Independent

Growing Bookworms

What’s "important is not that a child learns to love to read, but that a child learns to love story" @storybreathing

A resource room #teacher's plea: plea: let’s make Language Arts workbooks focus on brief real stories, not" tedium

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

The Great Rooms of Children’s Literature (incl. Berenstain Bears) by @Rumaan @Slate  #kidlit [Shown is the book with my personal favorite room from children's literature: Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Velvet Room.]

The Importance of #PictureBooks, No Matter Your Age, guest post by Janice Milusich for @Lauri14o

When Celebrity #PictureBooks (based on pop songs) Go Kuh-kuh-kuh-KRAZY! — @FuseEight  #kidlit


On how books can help us raise our children, with a #BookList for discussing 9/11  @donalynbooks @nerdybookclub

Sounds reasonable: Study finds that exercise before #school enhances "on-task" behavior for kids  via @WSJ

Powerful piece by @ChloeSchama @Slate on how #reading to her nonverbal son has helped her to understand him

1/3 of parents avoid reading children scary stories, UK study finds | psychologists say not good @GuardianBooks

Schools and Libraries

The @HornBook site has a slew of #BackToSchool resources including #BookLists by age and other #school story links 

Why Do Intervention Effects Fade? @DTWillingham reviews some new research  #ECE #education #preschool


This is neat: IceBox Derby Helps Steer Teenage Girls in Chicago Toward #Math and #Science  @BeckieStrum  @WSJ #STEM

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Super Happy Magic Forest by Matty Long

Book: Super Happy Magic Forest
Author: Matty Long
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-8

SuperHappyMagicSuper Happy Magic Forest is a super-fun picture book by Matty Long, about an epic quest by a brave band of five explorers to Goblin Tower to recover The Mystical Crystals of Life. It's basically an affectionate spoof on epic quest stories. The heroes include a mushroom named Trevor, who can't climb things because he has no arms, and a naive fairy with purple wings. They show varying degrees of courage and creativity as they make their way through frozen lands and a "Super Creepy Haunted Forest" to Goblin Tower. What they find there is somewhat unexpected, but they do, in the end, save the day. 

Super Happy Magic Forest would make a perfect gift to any child of Lord-of-the-Rings-loving parents. It's also a nice introduction to the idea of the epic quest for young readers. There are dangers along the way, but these are lashed with enough humor to keep the book from ever feeling scary. 

This is definitely a book to read aloud with dramatic intonations. Like this:

"But the forces of evil were at work. One day,
the Mystical Crystals of Life were

(Here STOLEN is rendered in large, bold letters)


"They adventured through
frozen lands and faced scary
and terrible creatures."

Long's illustrations are busy, chock-full of entertaining details, particularly the captions. The Super Happy Magic Forest (where the heroes live, and from where the crystals are stolen includes Rainbow Falls, Happy Bunnies, a Cotton Candy Cave, and lots more. There are ghosts and witches and colorful butterflies. It's like a cross between a gloomy quest and an LSD-enhanced trip through Wonderland, sprinkled with mild humor ("With barely enough time to pack a lunch, the heroes began their epic quest.").

Super Happy Magic Forest is a book that we've had for a few months now, and have appreciated a bit more each time we read it. While it's a bit complex (and perhaps scary) for the youngest listeners, it's a great choice for early elementary schools kids. Especially if they like butterflies, rainbow unicorns, goblins, or ghosts. Highly recommended and pure fun!

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: February 23, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: August 24: Reading, Reading, Reading

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter has refocused recently, and now contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, including bookworms, mathematicians, and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this relatively brief issue issue I have four book reviews (picture book through early chapter book), two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter, and two more posts with more in-depth highlights from articles about the joy of learning

Reading Update: In the past two weeks I read/listened to one early chapter book, two middle grade books, two young adult books, and two adult titles. I read:

  • J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Arthur A. Levine Books. Middle Grade. Completed August 12, 2016. I found this interesting, but didn't love it the way I did the original books. 
  • Holly Black and Cassandra Clare: The Bronze Key (Magisterium, Book 3). Scholastic Press. Middle Grade. Completed August 16, 2016. Review to come. 
  • Kara LaReau (ill. Matt Myers): The Infamous Ratsos. Candlewick Press. Early Chapter Book. Completed August 23, 2016.
  • Jennifer Lynn Barnes: The Long Game (The Fixer, Book 2). Bloomsbury USA. Young Adult. Completed August 20, 2016, on MP3. While not particularly plausible, I enjoy this series, and look forward to future books. 
  • Charlie Higson: The End (The Enemy, Book 7). Disney Hyperion. Young Adult. Completed August 21, 2016. This was the conclusion to a seven book series. While I don't believe I've reviewed these books, I do recommend the series for fans of YA post-apocalypse stories, especially those of the zombie apocalypse variety. They are not for the faint of heart, however. There's a lot of gore, and many, many characters die. I liked the mix of survival story and Lord of the Flies-type kid-on-kid political machinations. This series was strong enough to hold my interest across seven books (spread out over time), and for me to keep reasonable track of what was going on. I was satisfied with the ending. 
  • C. J. Box: Off the Grid (Joe Pickett, Book 16). G.P. Putnam's Sons. Adult Mystery. Completed August 15, 2016, on MP3. 
  • C. J. Box: Badlands (Cassie Dewell). Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed August 24, 2016, on MP3.

I'm currently  listening to Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and reading Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends  (nonfiction) by Martin Lindstrom on my Kindle. I have a number of recently arrived middle grade and YA titles on my short stack, to which I will be turning my attention soon. 

The books my husband and I have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here. Now that school is back in session, we're back to a regular routine, and thus reading more books together. I generally read her at least a couple of books at breakfast, and my husband or I will read her several more at bedtime. I've also noticed that she's becoming more likely to pick up a book to read or look at by herself, when she has some quiet time. I'll often find an open book on her bed or on the playroom floor. I do not comment on this - I want her to turn to books because she wants to, not because she thinks that I prefer it (though of course she knows that I do).

Her most recent favorite title is Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother by Jennifer Gray Olson. She likes for me to read most of the text aloud, while she chimes in with the little sister's dialog (helpfully shown in red). 

 I'm continuing to share all of my longer reads, as well as highlights from my picture book reads with my daughter, via the #BookADay hashtag on Twitter. Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. Wishing you all plenty of time for summer reading.

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Pirasaurs!: Josh Funk & Michael Slack

Book: Pirasaurs!
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Michael Slack
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

PirasaursWhat if the dinosaurs had been, or still were, pirates? You'd have Pirasaurs! Josh Funk's band of dinosaur pirates is on a quest to find buried treasure. They'll have to overcome a mutiny, a damaged map, and a trap first, however. The protagonist is a small, scaly orange cabin boy, uncertain of his place with the rowdy crew. The crew is headed by the female Captain Rex, assisted by Bronto Beard the lookout and Triceracook (a triceratops cook with a hook, covering many bases). 

Josh Funk's rhyming text is fun to read aloud, and sprinkled with strong vocabulary words. Like this:

"With handy hook, Tricercook
Prepares Jurassic feasts!

I love to slurp and belch and burp
With buccaneering beasts!"


"Velocimate can navigate
From reef to coastal bay.

I use my smarts to map the charts.
But still we're led astray."

Bonus points later in the book for use of the words "blurt" and "scallywags".

Michael Slack brings the pirates to colorful life, with special attention to our sometimes hopeful and sometimes discouraged young narrator. A battle between rival pirate gangs is especially dynamic, full of scowling faces and a mix of swords and dinosaur horns. 

Pirasaurs! is full of interesting characters, engaging wordplay, and dramatic (but not scary) action. It is perfect for preschoolers, and recommended for libraries, homes, and classrooms, or anywhere that a pirate- and/or dinosaur-loving child might lurk. 

Publisher: Orchard Books (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @AlisonGopnik + @JKarabinas + @AshleyLambS | #Play + #Reading

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have three articles that address the joy of learning, and the things that take that joy away. The first article looks at the cognitive benefits of play for young kids. The second explores better ways of tracking reading than chore-like reading logs. The third piece laments the stress that many American high school kids experience, and proposes a more playful, kindergarten-like atmosphere. All three articles are worth your time. 

GardenerAndCarpenterUnstructured #Play Results in Cognitive Benefits, as well as sheer pleasure @AlisonGopnik  @TheAtlantic

Alison Gopnik: "Just as we should give children the resources and space to play, and do so without insisting that play will have immediate payoffs, we should do the same for scientists and artists and all the others who explore human possibilities.

There is good reason to think that play helps us learn. But another part of the evolutionary story is that play is a satisfying good in itself—a source of joy for parents as well as children. Caring for children is hard work, getting the chance to play again is one compensation. If it had no other rationale, the sheer pleasure of play would be justification enough."

Me: This piece offers a strong defense of play, looking at both the science behind the cognitive benefits and the lighter side, too. I've been pleased to see this article getting a lot of exposure, and I hope it influences parents and teachers everywhere. Pieces like this give me hope that the pendulum is starting to swing back in the direction of play. 

If I Knew Then What I Know Now: Mistaking Compliance For #Learning re #ReadingLogs  @JKarabinas @HeinemannPD

Jaclyn Karabinas: "(On parent-signed reading logs:Was a signature really the most authentic way for students to share their reading life with me? Did it provide me with the information I needed to help them grow as readers? No! In fact, it sent one message and one message only: I can only be sure you are reading if you write it down and someone signs it. I conveyed that message of distrust in the name of “efficiency.”

...I was able to build an accurate picture of what my students felt was truly valuable for tracking their reading lives. And you know what? They wanted the same things I wanted: to celebrate a growing list of titles, make recommendations to peers, respond in writing to share their thinking, and look for patterns on the types of books they devoured or detested."

Me: The quote in the previous paragraph exactly mirrors my own thoughts on tracking reading (especially for my daughter). We want to keep track of what titles we've read, and it can be fun to look at how many titles that's been, or to see if there are patterns. But any tracking that crosses the line from "this is fun" to "this is a chore" runs the risk of turning reading itself into a chore. And that is a travesty. 

My daughter is just starting first grade, and I am waiting to see what sort of reading log her teacher uses. I am prepared to push back if necessary. My primary job in this area, as far as I'm concerned, is to maintain my daughter's love of reading. Full stop. 

What if High School was more like Kindergarten asks @AshleyLambS in @TheAtlantic  via @drdouggreen #JoyOfLearning

Ashley Lamb-Sinclair: "Lauri Jarvilehto is a former employee of Rovio (of Angry Birds fame) who has created a company called Lighneer, which is focused on educational games. Lauri believes—and I agree—that “education is important, but learning matters more.”

Too often, I see high-school students break down in tears over grades or pile on advanced and AP classes because “that’s what colleges want to see.” ...

How can America’s students feel hope for the future when they are so stressed from trying to achieve future success that they break down in tears?"

Me: This piece includes a concise summary of various survey results that capture the academic stress facing American high schoolers today, with comparisons to the situation in Finland (a much of #JoyOfLearning focused country). With my own daughter starting first grade, I worry already about how I can possibly keep the pressure cooker that is high school in the US (and especially in Silicon Valley - see this piece) from crushing her joy of learning. Articles like this one do give me some hope... 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: August 19: #BackToSchool Edition

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics during this relatively light week have shifted from last week's plethora of #BookLists to a focus on schools and libraries. Other topics include: #KidLitCon, classroom libraries, college, Cybils Awards, dollhouses, early readers, ebooks, literacy, playful learning, read aloud, and Sir Ken Robinson.

Book Lists

10 (Non-Preachy) Life Lessons Found in the Pages of Middle-Grade Fiction by @MelissaRoske @nerdybookclub  #kidlit

A Stranger Things-Inspired #BookList | Eerie, Creepy Books for Kids — @FuseEight   #kidlit 

+ #KidLitCon stalwarts @tanita_s_davis + @MsYingling talk Tanita's coming-of-age/tween novels @sljournal 

A Head's Up that The 2016 #Cybils Awards are coming soon!   #kidlit #BookAwards #PureFun 

Events + Programs

#BooksWithBarbers program encourages #reading (esp for African-American boys) in barbershops @thestate via @tashrow

Growing Bookworms

Some thoughts on Classic Beginning Readers and whether they are still useful or relevant at Guessing Geisel  #kidlit

Why we need to #ReadAloud to struggling #readers by @measuredmom  | "It shows them that the struggle is worth it"

Early #Literacy Around the House: The Kitchen (recipes, cooking shows, etc) by @mrskatiefitz 

Tough times out there? Here’s why #reading with your kids is more important than ever by @amyjoyce_berg  @tashrow

The Hurdles and Joys of #RaisingReaders by @LisaYee1 @ReadBrightly  #FlashlightReading


ThisIsMyDollhouseMy favorite thing in today's Fusenews @fuseeight is photos inspired by THIS IS MY DOLLHOUSE 

Just a note that the program for #KidLitCon is shaping up nicely + will be posted soon. It's going to be great!

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Thoughts on #Reading Analog (esp. for deeper reading) in a Digital World by @ReadByExample @nerdybookclub 

The Three Robbers by @TomiUngerer + #moral-free children's books  by Mark O'Connell @Slate #kidlit

5 Ways To Keep #Books Relevant in a world full of online distraction by @Mylifeonawhim @HuffingtonPost  via @tashrow

Parenting + Play (or Lack Thereof)

 10 Ways to Motivate Your Kid to Learn w/ focus on joy of discovery, unstructured #play, #learning styles  @Scholastic

Wondering why adults don't spend more time physically, creatively #playing  Ruth Hatfield @AwfullyBigBlog

Depressing: The dark side of Silicon Valley, according to a teen who grew up there @businessinsider @Quora  #RatRace

Schools and Libraries

How to Create a Culture For Valuable #Learning rather than conformity + compliance  @SirKenRobinson @MindShiftKQED

On using a "gradual release" policy for a 1st grade #classroom #library by Bitsy Parks @ChoiceLiteracy 

The importance of curating / weeding your #classroom #library by @katsok  @ChoiceLiteracy

How to create a positive (not incentive-based) #reading culture in your #school by Waheeda Simjee @tes 

OpEd: America desperately needs to redefine ‘college and career ready’ - @dintersmith via @drdouggreen  #education

Who would have though? Finland’s Hot New #Karaoke Bar Is a Public #Library | @SmithsonianMag via @tashrow

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Milk Goes to School: Terry Border

Book: Milk Goes to School
Author: Terry Border
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8


Terry Border, the author/illustrator of the Peanut Butter and Cupcake books, has a new back-to-school picture book called Milk Goes to School. In this story, Milk, a cute little red and white milk carton, starts school for the first time. She's excited about her sparkly new backpack, and her dad has attempted to boost her confidence by telling her that she is "la creme de la creme". But when she points these things out to the other students, they quickly conclude that "this Milk is spoiled." As the day progresses, Milk makes mis-step after mis-step, adding to the perception (about which she is in deep denial) that she is spoiled. But after a humiliating experience, Milk does refresh her behavior a bit by the end of the book and find some common ground with the other food children. 

Milk Goes to School is full of wordplay, particularly puns about food. Like this:

"Milk asked Carrot, "Would you like to share crayons?"

"I don't carrot all," Carrot said. "Like I said to Salad, lettuce be friends!"

Carrot seemed okay."

I was reading this book to myself and didn't get this at first. This is a book that calls for being read aloud. There's also this, sure to make a four-year-old giggle:

"Later, in the library, Milk asked if someone cut the cheese.

I don't like that saying," said Cheese, "but I think someone tooted."

"Oops. Sorry," said Beans. 

Much of the humor of the book, however, lies in Border's unique and whimsical illustrations. These were created by manipulating and photographing three-dimensional objects, such as, say, a milk carton with wire arms and legs, wearing a backpack. Fun details are everywhere, like the fishtank full of goldfish crackers and the image of Milk imagining herself as a queen, surrounded by foil-wrapped chocolate coins. I especially enjoyed the family pictures that the students drew, such as three apples (two large and one small) sitting on the branch of a tree. And I'm still smiling over Potato who "wanted to be a sailor on a gravy boat" when he grew up. Oh, and the eggs hatching chicken nuggets. Priceless! 

For me as an adult reader, the story itself is a little bit repetitive, with food puns throughout and Milk saying over and over again that she "didn't think she was spoiled at all." But I think that kids will find Milk Goes to School hilarious, especially kids who have already been through the pain of starting school and making new friends.

I quite respect Border's choice to make Milk, well, a bit spoiled. She does some nice things for the other kids, but she fusses when something is spilled on her drawing, she wants people to see how well she can spell and draw, etc. One suspects that she is an only child who hasn't had much chance to socialize with other kids. This makes Milk Goes to School braver than your run of the mill back-to-school picture book, where the issues are more about overcoming shyness or missing parents, etc. We have realistic character development in 32 food-covered, pun-filled pages. 

I'll add that my six-year-old just came in as I was writing this review, book open on my lap. She shrieked in recognition, saying "I had Peanut Butter and Cupcake in my Kindergarten class. And that's the exact same cupcake." She is VERY excited to read the book (but has friends over right now). I think this incident speaks to Border's distinctive and kid-friendly illustration style. 

In short, Milk Goes to School is a must-purchase for library back-to-school collections. It is sure to stand out, visually and thematically, and to be a favorite with kids. Recommended!

Publisher:  Philomel Books (@PenguinKids) 
Publication Date: June 28, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony by Ellen Potter + Qin Leng

Book: Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony (Book 3)
Author: Ellen Potter
Illustrator: Qin Leng
Pages: 128
Age Range: 7-9


The Sea Pony is the third book in the Piper Green and the Fairy Tree early chapter book series. (See my review of Books 1 and 2 here.) Piper is a seven-year-old girl who lives on a small island off the coast of Maine. Her island is so small that the younger kids take a lobster boat every morning to another island to attend school. Piper's older brother attends high school on the mainland, and can only come home on weekends. The other thing that's noteworthy about Piper is that she has a Fairy Tree in her front yard. She leaves small gifts for the fairies inside the tree, and they sometimes leave gifts for her. These gifts are mysterious at first, but generally turn out to be exactly what Piper needed.

In The Sea Pony, Piper finds a necklace in the tree. I won't spoil the surprise, but the necklace leads directly to Piper's discovery of the Sea Pony, as well as to the recovery of a lost family item. I'm never 100% clear on whether the Fairy Tree actually is magic, or whether a kindly neighbor might be intervening. But the sequence of events in The Sea Pony certainly have a magical quality to them. There's also a horse, and the chance for Piper to show up her nemesis. Seven-year-old readers will love it!

I quite like Piper. She's independent and resourceful, but with realistic capabilities and shortcomings. She tries to make a special meal for her brother and the result is something of a fiasco. But (living on a small island) she can go to the store by herself and get a missing ingredient. She helps her dad on his lobster boat. She's savvy enough to request payment, but young enough to think that at 10 cents a bait bag she'll earn enough to buy a horse in no time. She reminded me of my daughter in her optimism, willingness to work, and unrealistic larger expectations. Here are a couple of snippets:

"I'd never had a fancy necklace before. The only necklace I owned was made out of folded-up potato chip bags. My best friend, Ruby, made it for me." (Chapter 2)


(On learning that a surprise will be arriving on the ferry) "I wondered what it could be. A candy-vending machine, maybe? Or a gigantic turtle?

Then I thought of something.

"I'll bet it's a CIRCUS!!" I said in my whistle language." (Chapter 3)

Isn't Piper perfect? I also like Ellen Potter's occasional use of Maine lingo. The title of Chapter 7 is: "A Wicked Bad Gullywhumper" (a big storm). 

Qn Leng's black and white illustrations (one per chapter, a mix of whole and half-page pictures) convey Piper's movement and enthusiasm, as well as the coziness of the island. The expression on Piper's face as she stuffs smelly fish into a bait bag in Chapter 7 is priceless. 

The Piper Green and the Fairy Tree series, and The Sea Pony in particular, has a nice mix of "stuff kids think are cool" (living on a small island, taking boats, a Fairy Tree) and realistic family/community/kid dynamics. Piper's family is not the most well-off on the island, and her father doesn't hesitate to take her to task when she uses bait injudiciously. But the island also acquires a horse! The Sea Pony strikes a nice balance, I think. I'm happy to see this series continuing strong. I think it's a perfect fit for kids just starting to be ready for chapter books. Recommended, and definitely a nice addition for libraries serving new readers. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: August 16, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @PerriKlass + @Mind_Research + @JasonBoog + @AlisonGopnik

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have two articles about growing bookworms, one about giving kids positive experiences with math (rather than focusing so much on "achievement"), and one about the value of learning through play. The first article is about the benefits of giving young children real, print books. The second is about giving kids choice in what they read. This one was written in response to another piece that cast aspersions on kids' choices, also linked here. The third piece is about ways to get kids to play with math and use it to answer compelling questions. The fourth piece shares recent research about the ways that babies and preschoolers learn (naturally, though play and inquiry). All of these articles are, ultimately, about how to nurture joy in reading, math, and learning in general. Happy reading!

ReachOutAndReadThe Merits of #Reading Real (paper) Books to Your Children by @PerriKlass @nytimes  #RaisingReaders @reachoutandread

Perri Klass: "I love book-books. I cannot imagine living in a house without them, or putting a child to bed in a room that doesn’t have shelves of books, some tattered and beloved, some new and waiting for their moment. It’s what I wanted for my own children, and what I want for my patients; I think it is part of what every child needs. There’s plenty that I read on the screen, from journal articles to breaking news, but I don’t want books to go away...

Part of what makes paper a brilliant technology may be, in fact, that it offers us so much and no more. A small child cannot tap the duck and elicit a quack; for that, the child needs to turn to a parent. And when you cannot tap the picture of the horse and watch it gallop across the page, you learn that your brain can make the horse move as fast as you want it to, just as later on it will show you the young wizards on their broomsticks, and perhaps even sneak you in among them."

Me: Perri Klass is the National Medical Director for Reach Out and Read, a fabulous organization that provides doctors with books to give to kids on their well-child visits. I agree with her about the need for kids to have "book-books" as she calls them, vs. eBooks. As an adult, I adore my Kindle, particularly for travel. But for my six-year-old, everything I've read, and everything my instincts tell me, says that her books should be in print, not on a screen, for as long as possible. 

BornReadingLet Kids Read Whatever They Want to Read | Follow the child's lead  @jasonboog @GalleyCat via @PWKidsBookshelf

Jason Boog: "For decades, child developmental research has proven that children learn best when they pursue their own interests. The child’s interest is far more important than the choice of reading material. Parents, caregivers, librarians and teachers need to follow a child’s lead when choosing books—no matter what they want to read...

Stop wasting time arguing about the quality of children’s books. Use your energy to help kids chase the stories they love in libraries, app stores, and playgrounds."

Me: Jason Boog's brief piece was written in response to a Slate article in which Gabriel Roth noted kids' love of books featuring licensed characters seen on TV or in movies, rather than reading what their parents might want them to read. That piece sparked a bunch of discussion (including this piece by Catherine Nichols, defending occasional literary "junk food"). These discussions about the quality of children's literature crop up from time to time, of course, and have ever since there has been children's literature in the first place. 

My own experience has been that my daughter enjoys running across books about licensed characters that she likes (from the Frozen princess to Angry Birds). She'll sometimes bring home stacks of such books from the library. I've never had any problem with this, though there are certainly (as Roth indicates in his piece) books that I personally enjoy more. My take on it is that it's not a good idea to insult a child's taste (because this may turn them off reading, which is the worst outcome), so I am generally with Boog on the idea of letting kids read what they want. But I do find, unlike what Roth describes, that if I ALSO keep the books that I like around, and offer those as an option, my daughter will end up enjoying many of those, too. 

Why We Should Worry Less About the "Achievement Gap" + focus on giving kids great #math experiences  @MIND_Research

Brandon Smith: "The achievement gap is just a symptom of a bigger problem... a dissonance between the rich mathematical experiences students should have and what they actually have. This is what I've started calling the "experience gap." For example, when we teach children division with fractions, we have them memorize "Ours not to reason why ... just invert and multiply!" We don't ask kids to understand the why and how this works -- we discourage them from even thinking about it...

Great experiences have tricky problems, twists we didn't see coming, and structure that we can find if we look. Great experiences put faith in mathematics and in people. A great experience is a chance to play with mathematics -- with authentic mathematics where learning happens. We need to give students rich opportunities to learn by doing rather than static observation or rote memorization of rules."

Me: I agree wholeheartedly with Smith's point that we need to teach kids how to PLAY with math, and that it's in working to answer interesting questions that real learning occurs. 

New research shows "We don’t have to make children learn, we just have to let them learn"  @nytopinion @AlisonGopnik

Alison Gopnik: "We take it for granted that young children “get into everything.” But new studies of “active learning” show that when children play with toys they are acting a lot like scientists doing experiments. Preschoolers prefer to play with the toys that will teach them the most, and they play with those toys in just the way that will give them the most information about how the world works....

New research tells us scientifically what most preschool teachers have always known intuitively. If we want to encourage learning, innovation and creativity we should love our young children, take care of them, talk to them, let them play and let them watch what we do as we go about our everyday lives.

We don’t have to make children learn, we just have to let them learn."

Me: A friend shared this article with me on Facebook because he knew that the conclusion (quoted above) would be right up my alley. I've seen so many times with my own daughter the way she learns by figuring things out, and playing around with open-ended toys. The whole reason for my shift in my blog's focus over this past year has been that I don't want to see traditional school negatively impact her natural tendency to learn through play and inquiry. 

I think that this general dynamic remains true for older kids, too. They don't play in the same way, of course, but they learn most deeply by striving to understand things that are interesting to them. That's what I think, and it's always good to see articles published that back this theme up. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links.